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Jindal annoys paper by refusing to facilitate its agenda

Interestingly, that it is miffed at Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal’s unambitious debate plans tells us much more about the politics of the Baton Rouge Advocate than it does about Jindal.

The Advocate’s editorialists complain how Jindal has committed to appear at only two statewide debate forums, spewing forth with, as it turns out, a whole lot of bogus reasons why Jindal should attend more. (And it’s selective outrage as well – other candidates could have participated in them but some chose not to as well when they heard Jindal was not committing, so why reserve opprobrium to just Jindal?)

For one thing, how many debates is enough, if apparently (now) three isn’t? In the last presidential cycle, that's as many between the major party candidates, and if there is a general election runoff to this governor’s race, there probably will be just as many, if not more. How many were there in 2003? Honestly, I don’t remember exactly, but I think just four.

The Advocate also pouts about how having so few debates fails to “test himself and his ideas in the arena of public debate and discussion,” that these events are “of far greater value to the voters than canned sound bites and slick, carefully packaged political commercials,” and that the two scheduled “would be very late in the game.” These arguments show both ignorance and muddled thinking.

As any political scientist who studies campaigns and elections will tell you, the “debate” (which isn’t a true debate of candidates taking an issue and interrogatively arguing back and forth) is an artificial construct that tells us next to nothing about the issues and nothing at all about how well they can govern. Getting questions, sometimes spurious, with little time to answer them in a full and complete way produces the very “sound bites” devoid of complexity and context. And, news flash to you, Advocate: us who study campaigns generally agree that the sum total of “slick, carefully packaged political commercials” tell voters more about the candidates and their preferences than do debates.

And who cares about the “late in the game” timing? Studies also show a good portion of voters, roughly a quarter, don’t make up their minds until the last week of the campaign – regardless of how many “debates” there have been. And it’s not as if there aren’t other alternative (and better) sources of information about candidates and their issue preferences – The Advocate admits it has heard of television and radio spots, and surely by now it has heard of candidate web sites where all sorts of information about candidates and their preferences may be found (in fact, Jindal’s appears to provide more of this than any other candidate).

Surely the editorialists at The Advocate know these facts. Which is why the opinion piece in question demonstrates a combination of their pique at and fear of a Gov. Jindal. That is, Jindal sees these media-driven debate events as largely superfluous to his election, and if there’s one thing the media can’t stand, it’s being told that it is irrelevant (as illustrated by the line, dripping with indignation, of “Jindal didn’t bother to offer an excuse for declining to participate, failing to respond to at least four requests for comment from The Advocate”).

Jindal knows The Advocate is a media organ of the left, therefore hostile to his candidacy, and it would like him to take as many chances as possible to lose the race (which The Advocate would love to facilitate by sending its reporters on a quest to publicize any potential gaffe) by subjecting him to endless debates, and he’s not going to give it the satisfaction. And it knows this and that’s why it’s so burned up about this issue, explaining the appearance of its editorial.

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